Venkat Raman –
In his open and unguarded style, Fiji’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama has reiterated his country’s stand on the Pacific Agreement of Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus, saying that in its current form, it is not in the interest of his country.
He hoped that there would be an amicable settlement of differences- largely on legal wordings – but did not hesitate to warn that Fiji will walk away.
Speaking at a symposium organised by the ‘Fiji Trade & Investment’ at Stamford Plaza Hotel on Thursday, October 22, 2016, he said that there were two major issues- Infant Industry Development and Most Favoured Nation Status- that restrain Fiji from signing the Pact.
“We believe the current legal text not only fails to meet our requirements. If implemented, it would have an adverse impact on our development and the development of our Pacific Island neighbours,” he said.
Stating that Fiji was keen on an enduring, predictable and sustainable trade agreement between New Zealand and Australia on the one hand and the Pacific Islands on the other, he said that the document lacked these qualities.
“The current document is too one sided, too restrictive, places too many obligations on us that we cannot afford to meet. We need more flexibility, a recognition that we are a developing country and more concessions to enable us to have trading relationships with others. So, I repeat: we cannot sign the current document,” he said.
Mr Bainimarama however did not close Fiji’s door for further talks.
He said that Fiji will walk away only if New Zealand and Australia ultimately refuse to be flexible on the key concerns of Fiji and other Pacific island nations.
“I personally hope that day never comes. That in this instance, the New Zealand Government and the New Zealand Parliament will come to see the justice of our position. And I ask you all in the New Zealand business community to support us. Because what we are asking for is reasonable. And it is fair,” he said.
Mr Bainimarama said that such differences should not divide the two countries but bring together on other matters where there is common destiny and interest.
Fiji and New Zealand share “our particular corner of the world and share the warm personal links between our peoples,” he said.
Trade and tourists up
Conceding that New Zealand is a very important market for Fiji, he said that two-way trade in goods and services is valued at F$ 700 million a year.
“In terms of our tourism industry and Fiji’s biggest revenue earner, New Zealand is our second largest source market, with more than 120,000 Kiwi visitors each year contributing more than F$ 200 million to the Fijian economy. New Zealand visitor arrivals are increasingly buoyant. In fact, over the past two years, we have seen the largest increase from New Zealand of any of our markets. Provisional monthly arrivals in August were up 15% over the same period last year to reach a total of over 20,000.,” Mr Bainimarama said.
There are some differences between the Australian and New Zealand markets but there are also some striking similarities in terms of the overall investment climate; not in the least is the dramatic improvement in the quality of Fiji’s political and diplomatic engagement with the New Zealand and Australian governments, he added.
“This is finally beginning to match the excellent people-to-people ties that have always existed between our peoples.”
Working out differences
Appealing to investors, businesspersons and others to have a fresh look at the trade and investment opportunities in his country, Mr Bainimarama asked them to engage themselves more constructively.
“I appeal to you to play your own part in the economic reinvigoration of our relationship to match the new political and diplomatic re-engagement between our nations. There are several benefits of investing in Fiji – our position as Hub of the Pacific; our rapidly improving infrastructure – better roads, better airports, more efficient ports; our general connectivity and world class telecommunications; our investment incentives, including duty concessions, investment allowances and some of the lowest corporate and personal taxes in the region,” he said.
Mr Bainimarama was a guest of the New Zealand during his five-day official visit from October 19 to October 23, 2016. During his stay, he fulfilled several engagements including a meeting with Prime Minister John Key along with officials from both sides at the Government House in Auckland, where he inspected a Guard of Honour.
Additional Reading: ‘Fiji opens door to New Zealand Journalists’ under Homelink; ‘Fresh incentives for education providers’ in this Section; ‘Goodwill inaugurates new chapter’ under Viewlink; ‘Bilateral relations with Fiji get a major boost’ under Businesslink.